Comment: Don't imitate the influencers

Kevon Cheung says the key to growing your online audience is to focus on your inner circle rather than copying the big players.

Kevon Cheung is a content creator and the founder of Public Lab, which helps people build a voice online.

If you want to build an audience online, what do you do after creating a social media account? You look at the most successful influencers on the platform and try to decode what gets them there. It's the most logical step to get closer to success – learn from others.

Yes, it's the most logical. But it's also the worst way to build up your audience online. Imagine you join a new, large company as an entry-level employee: do you think you can learn more by looking at what the CEO is doing from a distance or working next to your direct manager? That's right: you learn more from the person two steps ahead of you.

When you get on Twitter and check out these influencers, it's easy to see that most of them are writing short tweets throwing out what I call ‘wisdom bombs’. They're inspirational once you add your own context to them. At this point, you're thinking: Ahh! This is what it takes to get a lot of followers on Twitter! You start tweeting this way and, sadly, no one cares about what you have to say.

The thing you don't know is that these influencers are either famous in real life or they have high perceived credibility on Twitter based on their follower numbers. When you tweet a wisdom bomb and you only have 43 followers, no one takes you seriously. It's like a bike messenger saying he knows all about law – a scene I recall from a television show I'm watching now. While I'm not a fan of using follower numbers to judge how successful someone is, you and I can't deny that we live in a world like this now. If you can't imitate the influencers at all, what should you do? Make Twitter friends. 

If no one knows your name online, your best shot is to become a friendly and approachable person that people enjoy talking to. Instead of standing on stage, which is what you think having a voice on social media is about, picture yourself sitting in a community circle and having intimate back-and-forth conversations with your peers.

You don't throw out wisdom bombs. You share stories of your journey that are helpful to your Twitter friends. You also want to be as helpful as possible to contribute to the community. Once you do this, you'll notice your friends become your first group of followers. And the genuine and helpful interactions will attract other people to follow you. Without you noticing, you have an audience. An audience not for you to broadcast messages to, but a group of amazing friends that you can get help from, involve in your new projects or collaborate with.

This is the way you build an audience online that the influencers don't want to tell you about.

This article was first published in Courier issue 48, August/September 2022. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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